Satan, Devil and Demons
2 Cor. 11:14
1 Peter 5:8
2 Peter 2:4
The Angels that Sinned - Slandering Celestial Beings
by Steven Cox
The subject of this booklet is the "angels that sinned" of 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. The subtitle "slandering celestial beings" is taken from the following verses in 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 8, where false teachers who were troubling the early church are condemned. To slander means to falsely accuse. The "angels that sinned" and those teachers who accused "celestial beings" (in other words, they falsely accused angels) are closely related. This booklet examines that relationship.
However, before starting on this subject a word of caution to the reader:
Many Christians believe a tradition that the evil in this world is due to 'rebel angels', and that the 'devil' of the New Testament is also a 'fallen angel' - although the Bible never says so. Therefore the two mentions of "angels that sinned" in 2 Peter and Jude, which are unique in the whole Bible, have become popular as evidence for belief in a supernatural devil and demons.
It needs to be said that the subject of evil, the devil, and demons, are complicated subjects. They may in fact be among the last subjects which a student of the Bible comes to understand. This is because the New Testament (where almost all references to 'the devil' and 'demons' occur) expects that the reader already has an understanding of God and man, good and evil, life and death built on the foundation of the Old Testament. Too often readers of the New Testament take references to 'devil' and 'demons' on their own terms - according to what the words mean in their own local culture - and then read backwards into the Old Testament. In this way they mix their own ideas with the teachings of the Bible.
A better method is to first gain a thorough understanding of Old Testament teaching, and only then start to study secondary subjects such as the devil.
Even when the time comes to make a study of the devil and demons, this booklet, which only deals with two exceptional verses in 2 Peter and Jude, is not the place to start. It would be better to first read more general material about the subject of the devil.
The reader may well feel that he or she knows the subject of the devil very well, and has no need to reexamine the subject, but if you are not so sure then try answering the following questions:
If you are not sure of the answer to any of these questions then you are invited to first read the Bible Basics section on God and Evil. When this is read it is hoped that this web page will be a useful appendix.
Popular beliefs in Peter and Jude's day
The modern Christian idea of the devil largely developed out of an interpretation of Isaiah 14:12 which was taken as a description of the fall of Satan from heaven. In the English King James Bible the word is Lucifer, which means 'Morning Star' - a name for the planet Venus as it is visible at daybreak. In recent years many Christian churches have stopped using Isaiah 14:12 in this way, as others (including Christadelphians) have pointed out that Isaiah is describing "the King of Babylon" (14:4), "a man" (14:16), but the tradition is still strong and 'Lucifer' is still behind many peoples' understanding of the devil.
However, at the time Peter and Jude wrote, 'Lucifer' was never used as a name for the devil. In fact Peter's own "day star" (2 Peter 1:19, meaning Christ) was rendered 'Lucifer' in Latin Bibles, and as a result in the early church 'Lucifer' was considered as a title of Christ, sung to in early hymns, and taken as a personal name by several bishops.
When Peter and Jude wrote the belief in fallen angels did not centre around Isaiah 14:12 but on this verse:
The context of Genesis 4 and 5 suggests that 'sons of God' here means the same as it means in the New Testament - human believers. The famous 5th Century Catholic theologian Augustine wrote at length about Genesis 6:2 in his book City of God and concluded that the 'sons of God' were the sons of Seth who "began to call on the name of the Lord" (Genesis 4:26), but were enticed away from worship of the Lord by the godless 'daughters of men' - meaning that they intermarried with the descendants of Cain - until only Noah and his family remained faithful. This is also the interpretation followed by the Jewish Rabbis writing on Genesis 6:2.
However in the days of Peter and Jude many myths had grown up among Jews as a result of influence by Babylonian and Greek traditions.
We might think of 'myths' as being something found more among Greeks and Romans, but Paul warned Titus to "pay no attention to Jewish myths" (Titus 1:14). Many of these Jewish myths are fantastic fiction about Old Testament figures, such as Seth, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Solomon and Ezra.
Examples of Jewish myths are found in the Apocrypha of Catholic Bibles (Tobit, Bel and the Dragon), and in other surviving Pseudepigrapha - meaning 'false writings'. Jewish myths about angels and demons are also found inscribed on papyrus and pottery fragments dug up by archeologists, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in Israel in 1948. They had lain hidden since around AD70 - exactly the time at which Peter and Jude were writing.
Enoch and the angels that sinned
Frequent among these Jewish myths is the myth of fallen angels. The most complete version of the myth is found in the so-called Book of Enoch, which is an imaginative expansion on the Sons of God and Daughters of Men in Genesis 6.
The key event, the fall of the rebel angels, is described as follows:
The story continues with the fallen angels fathering a race of giants. But the angels are accused by the archangel Michael, and bound in Tartarus to await judgment for 70 generations. The angels ask Enoch to mediate with God on their behalf, but Enoch's requests are refused. The giants also cause havoc on the earth, Michael appeals to God again, and they are drowned in the flood. In the Book of the Giants these children of the angels, led by their leaders Ohiyah and Mahawi, also ask Enoch to mediate for them. God decrees that the spirits of the giants shall survive to torment mankind and they become a new class of beings, the demons (one of the most powerful of whom was the same Asmodeus mentioned in the Book of Tobit). The giants' human mothers also survive and become Sirens.
In the 1st Century the Book of Enoch was a best-seller. The book was so popular that it would have been known to all the Jewish Christians addressed by Peter and Jude - even if they, like many educated Jews, did not accept it as fact. We know, for example, that it was rejected by the 1st Century Pharisee known as Pseudo-Philo (Book of Antiquities 3:1), by Rabbi Simeon Ben Yohai (Genesis Rabbah 26:5), and by Trypho, the Jew who debated with Justin Martyr (Dialogue 1:79:1). Not to mention by the Lord Jesus himself (Mark 12:25).
Nevertheless despite Paul's warning (Titus 1:14) some of the converts from Judaism to Christianity brought with them these Jewish myths - including the Book of Enoch and the legend of the fallen angels - and the documents of the early church indicate that these myths were later taken up by the Gnostics.
Peter, Jude, and Enoch
Jude 18 and 2 Peter 3:3 are the only quote of one letter by another in the New Testament. The proof that Jude quotes Peter and not the other way round is shown by comparing the following:
Peter and Jude are obviously addressing the same problem but with one difference; when Peter wrote the false teachers were coming, but when Jude wrote they had arrived. Jude is a continuation of 2 Peter.
Jude also quotes from the Book of Enoch:
'The Seventh from Adam'
Some will react strongly to the suggestion that Jude quoted from a Jewish myth and point out that he identifies Enoch as "Enoch the Seventh from Adam".
Normally this would be a fair objection. The Bible does not generally quote from such profane sources, and certainly never treats such books as authoritative. However in this case the phrase "the seventh from Adam" does not come from Genesis but from Book of Enoch 60:8. So we are not dealing with one quote of Enoch here, but two. In fact there are as many as 30 references to the Book of Enoch in 2 Peter and Jude.
It cannot be argued that the similarity of Enoch 1:9 and Jude 14-15 is mere coincidence. It also cannot be argued that Enoch quotes Jude, because the oldest manuscript of Enoch is at least 100 years before Christ.
It may be argued that these are the genuine words of Enoch which survived as an oral tradition, were preserved in Book of Enoch, and then used selectively by Jude. But this is impossible for 4 reasons:
Exposing the Book of Enoch's inconsistencies.
Consider a modern Christian who wished to expose some of the fanciful stories found in the Book of Mormon (a modern equivalent to the 1st Century Book of Enoch). How would he do this? Probably first by claiming the superiority of the Bible - which is exactly what Peter does in 2 Peter 1:19-20.
Secondly he would probably quote examples from the Book of Mormon and show how they contradict the Bible. This is exactly what the two apostles do. In Enoch Michael accuses the 200 heavenly beings of sin, yet Peter contradicts this: "angels do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord" (2 Peter 11), and Jude even says this of Michael (Jude 9).
Thirdly he would seek to show that the Book of Mormon is not logical or consistent in itself. And this is exactly why Jude quotes Enoch 1:9 (Jude 14-15). While the book shows a man (Enoch) judging sinful angels, 1:9 speaks of angels coming to judge sinful man. In this way Jude exposes an inconsistency in the message of the Book of Enoch.
In Part 1 we saw the background of Jewish myths, and the conclusion of this section, Part 2, is that Peter and Jude wrote their letters to combat false teachers teaching (as one of these myths) the Book of Enoch. This will be demonstrated as we go through 2 Peter verse by verse in Part 3.
2 Peter 1:16-3:2 verse by verse
2 Peter 1:16-18 - Cleverly invented myths
When Peter says: "we did not follow cleverly invented stories" (2 Peter 1:16) the word 'stories', as in Titus 1:14, is myths he implies that there were others who did "follow cleverly invented stories" and this sets the scene for the references which follow in 2 Peter 2.
That Peter recounts the events of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) is a deliberate contrast of his real experience as a witness of Christ's glory and hearer of God's words "on the mountain", with the visions of the fictional Enoch on "the mountain the point of whose summit reached to heaven" (Enoch 17:1).
2 Peter 1:19-21 - More certain than what?
Peter's claim "We have the word of the prophets made more certain" (1:19) begs the question "More certain than what?". It shows that other teachers with a 'less certain word' of prophecy were also circulating. We will see that Peter's references in the next chapter (2:1-22) indicate that the 'less certain word of prophecy' was the so-called Book of Enoch. The verse following "the more sure word of prophecy" is also important:
Again the existence of rival teachings are implied. The Book of Enoch does also contain what we understand as in modern English as 'prophecies' about the future, but in Bible times prophecy was understood as also concerning the past and the present. So Peter's comments are not limited to future 'prophecies' but include all areas of teaching. This means that his following comment refers to all the Bible, not just the prophecy books:
2 Peter 1:16-21 is the most extended defense of inspiration in the New Testament. In total it suggests that Peter was facing a major challenge to the inspiration of the scriptures and the authority of apostles. This is confirmed as we enter the next chapter:
2 Peter 2:1-3 - Stories they have made up
Where should we look for an explanation of Peter and Jude's mentions of "angels that sinned"? Rule No.1 of good Bible study is 'always read the context'. And yet most Christian readers of the 'angels that sinned' passages read only the angels-flood-Sodom sequence in 2 Peter 2:4-8 (or the Sinai-angels-Sodom sequence in Jude 5-7) without noticing what precedes or follows. What precedes is clear:
This alerts us that what follows is related to these stories which are being spread by false teachers 'among the church' just as they had once been spread by false teachers "among the people" of Israel. This is confirmed in Jude's parallel example of apostasy at Sinai (Jude 4-5).
2 Peter 2:4 If...
Peter refers here to Enoch 10:4 where the archangel Raphael chains the angels that sinned in Tartarus. But note that Peter is using a hypothetical "if" : "if the angels sinned.... then...". It does not mean that Peter is presenting Enoch 10:4 as historical fact, only that he is presenting a logical argument. His conclusion (the "then..." part) comes in 2:9.
2 Peter 2:5-8 Old Testament examples
Some will say that because Peter follows his reference to the chaining of the angels (Enoch 10:4) with the Old Testament examples of Noah (Genesis 7-9), and Sodom (Genesis 19) that Peter is granting Enoch the same authority as Genesis. But why should this be the case? Wouldn't it be more natural to think that Peter simply does not consider that an example taken from the uninspired Book of Enoch is sufficient to prove his point?
We could also ask why, if Peter considered that the story of the fallen angels was true, he did not quote Genesis 6:2 rather than Enoch 10:4? Although people who believe in fallen angels often assert that the 'sons of God' in Genesis 6 are angels it is striking that Peter and Jude will quote from Genesis on Noah and Sodom but never, without exception, quote Genesis as the source of the 'angels that sinned' story. Because, of course, Genesis knows no such story.
Likewise in the parallel Jude 7 "punishment of eternal fire" Jude does not refer to the Genesis sons of God, (who were destroyed with water not fire), but instead the fallen stars who are chained "in a great fire that was burning and flaming" (1 Enoch 21:7). This is another sign that the 200 angels are mythical.
2 Peter 2:9 - Nothing to fear from angels
Peter now comes to his conclusion: if God has already reserved the angels "to the day of judgment" (as in Enoch 10:4) then there is nothing to fear from "angels that sinned".
Peter's argument was picked up by the Canadian Christadelphian author Ron Abel :
This was the best answer to the fallen angels myth in Peter's time, and it is still the best answer today. If the part of the Book of Enoch about the angels marrying is true, then why not the part about the angels having been chained in Tartarus? If they are chained in Tartarus, then (as Peter argues in 2:9) logically these angels aren't a threat to anyone are they?
Of course people may claim that there 'must have been' other falls, and other angels who 'got away'. But apart from the lack of any evidence for this (and the inconsistency that God would chain 200 angels and then let another band of rebel angels escape!) such a claim contradicts Peter's fundamental point which is that, even if Enoch were true, that book itself shows that "God knows how to deliver the godly from temptation" (2:9).
This is one of the most clear arguments against the existence of fallen angels in the whole Bible.
2 Peter 2:10-12 Slandering Celestial Beings
Peter's main argument against Enoch is found in the sections immediately following the mentions of the "angels that sinned". This often passes unnoticed by those seeking in 2 Peter and Jude support for their own belief in fallen angels:
2 Peter 2:10 Dominion and Glories
"Authority" (literally 'dominion') is elsewhere in the New Testament always associated with heavenly 'principalities and powers' (Ephesians 1:21, Colossians 1:16).
"Celestial beings" literally is 'glories' plural and is used in this sense only by Peter and Jude in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 1:11 Peter speaks of the future glories of Christ, but in the Old Testament the term describes the glories surrounding God:
It is also used in this sense in 1st Century Jewish literature:
That 'dominion' and 'glories' mean more than just human government and dignities is confirmed by Peter's next verse:
Humans slandering celestial beings
These verses, parallel in 2 Peter and Jude, are key to explanation of both letters. Both writers state (twice) that the false teachers were slandering celestial beings, namely angels. "Slander" implies two conclusions; (a) that they were accusing the glories of wrongdoing, (b) that their accusations were unfounded. Surprisingly the obvious impact of the verses, that the false teachers allegations were lies, that the angels did not sin, and that the whole story of angels that sinned is slander, is usually completely ignored.
If the allegations (specifically of angels having sex with women) were "slanderous accusations" then it can hardly be used as proof that the accusations were true. If the 'slander' consisted of allegations that angels rebelled, descended to earth and fathered demons, then Peter and Jude's evidence must be taken to mean that no such thing happened, and that it is not acceptable to believe or teach such things in the church.
2 Peter 2:11 Angels themselves do not slander
Peter and Jude then repeat the charge, that not only are the charges human slander against heavenly beings, but that real angels would never make such an accusation.
In Jude 9 the same is said of Michael2, yet according to Enoch Michael was the leader in bringing the accusation against the fallen angels to God:
Thus according to Enoch it was Michael and three other archangels, who accused Shemihazah and Azazel, but according to Peter angels (specifically Michael, Uriel, Raphael and Gabriel) "do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord", and Jude adds that Michael would not accuse the devil himself. In other words the story of Michael making an accusation against the angels in Enoch 9 is false - and if the story of the accusation is false then so is the story of the angels' sin.
(A sobering thought here is that if the teachings of the Book of Enoch, and the false teachers, were considered as "blaspheming glories" then what does that mean for modern churches which have similar teaching on fallen angels?).
2 Peter 2:12-14 Peter's Conclusion
Peter repeats again that the teachers 'blaspheme' or slander in matters (the matter of angels) about which they understand nothing. This is paralleled in Jude with the additional comment "these are the very things that destroy them". This is a serious comment. We might not see a direct relationship between incorrect ideas on angels and the kind of behaviour described by Peter and Jude, but Jude does: these things, their talking about things they do not understand, "are the very things that destroy them" (Jude 10).
2 Peter 2:15-16 Rebukes from the Bible
Peter now takes the example of Balaam (from Numbers 22-24). Jude expands this to include Cain (Genesis 4) and Korah (Numbers 16) in Jude 11.
2 Peter 2:17 Rebukes taken from Enoch
It is at this point that Peter returns to Enoch with three references to the false teachers as "dry springs" (Hosea 13:15 but connected to Enoch 48:1,96:6), "waterless clouds" (Enoch 18:5,41:4-5,100:11-12) and "reserved for blackest darkness" (Enoch 21:3).
These rebukes are expanded in much greater detail by Jude 12-13 taking language used in Enoch about false shepherds of Israel: "trees without fruit" (Enoch 80:3), "plucked up" (Enoch 83:4), "raging waves" (Enoch 101:3-5?). And finally "wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved for ever" (Enoch 21:3). In this Jude uses language about "angels that sinned" and applies it to the false teachers. This is a powerful way of repeating his charge that "these are the very things that destroy them" (Jude 10).
It might seem strange to us that Peter and Jude describe those who taught from the Book of Enoch in language drawn from the same false book, but this is not unique in the Bible. Compare what was said in the Old Testament of those following idols:
In Enoch 21:3 the "stars" are fallen celestial beings, but (and here's the point) in Jude 13 the "wandering stars" are those false teachers who teach myths from the Book of Enoch. The word "wanderer" is not drawn from Enoch 21 but from Hosea 9:17, and likewise Jude's image of the dead tree connects not only with Enoch 80:3 but also with Hosea 9:16. This may be to emphasize that Jude 12-13 really concerns wayward Jewish believers (as in Hosea) rather than wayward angels (as in Enoch).
2 Peter 18-22 The dog returns to its vomit
In five verses Peter five times repeats the theme that these false teachers were returning to their old beliefs.
This five times emphasis is clearly important. Each time Peter is underlining that the teachers were reverting to their origins - an argument which only makes sense if in this context these were not Greek origins, but Jewish origins such as the Book of Enoch found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Likewise in the parallel section of Jude "murmurers" (Jude 16) harks back to his theme of the Jews murmuring in Sinai (Jude 4) and the wishing to return to Egypt again. (Jude 16 is the only use of the word "murmerer" in the New Testament.)
2 Peter 3:1-2 the Authority of Scripture
Finally we arrive at Peter's conclusion. Note that Peter cites the prophets, demonstrating (as earlier in 2 Peter 1:21) the authority of the Old Testament over Enoch, while the parallel (Jude 17-18) is that Jude cites the apostles, demonstrating the authority of New Testament over the Book of Enoch and other myths.
This booklet has stuck closely to the internal context of 2 Peter and Jude and their mentions of "the angels that sinned". But this myth was so widespread in the 1st Century that it is unlikely that only Peter and Jude had heard of the Book of Enoch. Other New Testament passages clearly related to the "angels that sinned" include the following:
Like the comment of Peter and Jude that those who accused angels were in fact slandering, or blaspheming, the above three verses tend to be overlooked by those who have already decided that angels can marry, and can sin. This seems ridiculous but there are those who will read the above verses as follows:
That may seem humorous. It is not intended to be, not at all. This is a serious subject. Remember what Jude said about slandering celestial beings: "these are the very things that destroy them" (Jude 10).
How much better it would be to simply accept the overall teaching of the Bible, found in 288 references to angels, that angels really are all, meaning all without exception, ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation:
1. Jude 14
2. Jude 23:
We can draw a comparison as follows:
Questions from Introduction
Questions relating to this subject: